Will White People Go to the National Black Museum?

The Smithsonian's new national black museum hasn't integrated Washington, D.C.'s whitest address yet, and it's already dodging spitballs from Congress.

Rep. Jim Moran (Getty Images)
Rep. Jim Moran (Getty Images)

The Anacostia Community Museum is one of the Smithsonian Institution’s grand, federally chartered Washington, D.C., museums, but it is located miles from the Mall’s gleaming white marble monuments where millions of eighth-grade history students pilgrimage each year.

It is a world-class museum charged with interpreting and preserving the black experience. But it is tucked away in a remote corner of Washington’s poorest, blackest ward. Since it was established in 1967, the museum’s surrounding Ward 8 community has served as a glaring metaphor for the black experience: segregated, under-resourced and disrespected. A few weeks ago my husband got lost while driving to meet me there. He rolled down his car window, and flagged pedestrian after pedestrian. “Where’s the Anacostia Museum?”

Person after person he stopped replied with blank stares.

In a rant on Capitol Hill earlier this month, Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) railed against these kinds of federally supported ethnic museums — calling them un-American. According to U.S. News and World Report, Moran went off about the burdens of funding them during a Capitol Hill Appropriations hearing:

Every indigenous immigrant community, particularly those brought here enslaved, have a story to tell and it should be told and part of our history. The problem is that much as we would like to think that all Americans are going to go to the African American Museum, I’m afraid it’s not going to happen. The Museum of American History is where all the white folks are going to go, and the American Indian Museum is where Indians are going to feel at home. And African Americans are going to go to their own museum. And Latinos are going to go their own museum. And that’s not what America is all about … It’s a matter of how we depict the American story and where do we stop? The next one will probably be Asian Americans. The next, God help us, will probably be Irish Americans.